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"Misconceptions About Prison Life"













































"Misconceptions About Prison Life"

By Jeanette Doil

  The prison system is something that most people don't think about often. Oh sure when the news does a story on some horrible crime that captures headlines we take notice. We see what the media wants us to see. We believe what the government wants us to believe. But how many of us really know the truth?
 
  In 1997 there were 1,725,842 inmates in our jails and prisons. The largest percentage of inmates are in prison on drug charges. I'm not talking about big time drug dealers. I'm speaking of people who had a small amount of drugs, who were harming no one other than perhaps themselves. They make up the largest portion of the inmate population. You may be surprised to know that murder, rape, etc. don't even make the top ten list of reasons that people are incarcerated.

What do you think it's like to live in a prison? Close your eyes and picture it. Do you imagine there are swimming pools, comfortable beds, tennis courts? Do you see the inmates lazing about with nothing to do, relaxing living the life of the ultimate couch potato? You don't believe any of those things? How about this, do you think the state (ultimately you) pays for the shampoo, toothpaste, soap etc. that a person needs in order to be hygienic? Do you believe that inmates are well fed, while many on the streets are hungry? When inmates work do you think they are paid well for their efforts, with your money? Do you believe they have top quality health care at your expense?

None of the above is the truth! I do not know of a single state prison with a swimming pool or tennis court, if they exist let me assure you it would be for the staff, not the inmates. The beds are cement slabs or metal racks with thin mattresses. Couch potato? Not most of them, most are like caged animals, waiting , pacing, praying to be called to work, or church or anywhere. But there are not enough jobs, not enough staff for work or church or recreation on too many days.

Inmates must pay for their own shampoo, toothpaste, soap etc. Indigent inmates are supposed to be supplied limited quantities of these things, but they often go without. Most inmates leave the table hungry. In many states inmates are not paid at all for their work. In the states that do pay inmates for work the pay starts at .10 per hour. 25% is taken for a gate fee. Things are not any cheaper in prison. So how long do you think it would take you to buy a bottle of shampoo at ten cents per hour?

You may be saying to yourself right now, So? They are criminals they deserve it! Do the crime do the time! Or any one of a hundred things along the same lines. Most people believe you must do something really violent to end up in prison. Most people believe that you are still innocent until proven guilty in this country. Most people don't think about it at all until one of two things happen. They or a loved one is affected by violent crime or they or a loved one is wrongly incarcerated or excessively sentenced.

When I say these things I have many people tell me that we think too much about the criminal and the victims are forgotten. Having been a victim of violent crime I can relate to the feeling. But usually it is based on your own sense of hurt which can greatly cloud your outlook. I am not saying that victims should have no rights. My heart goes out to every one who has been hurt by crime, the initial victim and the loved ones of those who will be incarcerated because of the crime. What I am saying is if we believe by seeking revenge on those who hurt us we will feel better in the end we are wrong.

But more than that we will change nothing. Most people who are in the prison system will get out, they will be somebody's neighbor and they will have gained nothing from their time in prison except the knowledge that "it's you or me" because that's the way it is in our prisons. They have removed most of the educational programs from our prisons. Because the tax payers don't want to throw away good money on worthless criminals. They have no counseling, nothing to help them change whatever it was that got them where they are in the first place. Is this what we really want?

I also will not forget to mention that there are many people in our prisons who are guilty of nothing. Some couldn't afford a qualified attorney, some were threatened and railroaded. Some were the victims of devious prosecutors whose pay raises often depend on the number of convictions they get. But no matter why they are there, guilty or not. They deserve to be treated with decency. The punishment is the loss of freedom, they need not have other forms of torment inflicted upon them. We can not give up the rights of the accused or we risk becoming nazi Germany revisited, when we give up the rights of the accused we soon will be sentencing without so much as a trial, Why waste the tax money?

On another note you have the families, friends and other loved ones who are doing time on the outside. They often receive little or no sympathy or help from their families. "Just dump the jerk", "He always was a trouble maker", "You're better off without him" Those who have family behind them are very lucky indeed. But even so the stigma from the rest of the world can be overwhelming. Because the whole rest of the world cannot know what you know. "he didn't do it" Or the reasons why he did. Or no matter that he did, I love him anyway, he's still my son, still my husband, she's still my daughter.

The prison system itself also places an added burden on the family. You have often lost your breadwinner, in my case the only one in the family earning any money at all, and yet still you have to pay the bills, have to try to send some money to your loved one in prison. Have to pay the phone bill, from which the state will take even more money from your empty pockets. There is no end.  cont.

You can reach Jeanette Doil at:

jet@eaznet.com